On my second day in Da Lat, I had grandiose ideas of renting a motorbike and trying to get myself lost. But when I woke up I had second thoughts and spent a good hour going back and forth in my head about what to do. I'm a bit indecisive if you didn't know already. Eventually, I decided it wasn't the best idea, given the road conditions (drivers) of Vietnam and opted for another day of random exploration. I was on my way to the Crazy House when a motorbike pulled up beside me. Knowing exactly what he was about to propose I was prepared with my 'no, not today' standard response, but for some reason that's not what happened.
He whipped out his list of tour options and started talking about how a tour with him is different from Easy Riders and other tour groups in the area. His prices were better than the others I had been offered, he seemed like a super sweet guy and ultimately laid down the line, "please help me, I have no money". I never thought I had a soft spot, but I was curious, soon I knew I'd end up on the back of his bike. For some reason I chose his most expensive tour, don't ask what I was thinking, but I had read about the Elephant Falls and that was the only tour that offered a visit there. I was quickly on the back of his bike and we were off into the countryside.
After a few minutes, I was happy with my decision not to rent a motorbike for the day, I wanted to go to the Elephant Falls and the roads there were complete $h!t. I was glad to be on the back of a bike rather than riding one myself trying to navigate the dirt roads without killing myself. On the way out to the falls we had a few stops to make, according to the tour plan, none of which blew me away but I was happy to stop by.
Aside from taking pictures on the side of the road and enjoying the spectacular views, we made stops at a flower farm, coffee plantation (including weasel coffee), silk factory, and eventually the much anticipated, Elephant Falls. Similar to my Mekong Delta trip, the motorbike ride was probably my favorite part, at least until we arrived at the falls, so I took time to soak up every second of it. The weasel coffee would have been a big hit but I already experienced this "weasel eats the coffee and poops it out" thing in Bali. I think they were pissed off that I didn't sit there and enjoy some poop coffee, but that's just too bad.
After the coffee (bathroom) break, we moved on and drove through some more dodgy roads and past lots of inquisitive locals (I guess they don't see white girls that often). Our next stop was at the silk factory which was actually kind of interesting since I'd never seen the process before in my life. I think I knew that silk comes from silkworms (duh), but I never actually saw it all happening. My guide (kicking myself for not remembering his name), kind of explained the process to me, but taking a few minutes just to observe the women working was really enough for me. I couldn't give you the ins and outs of the process but I can say that I would never want to work in the business. Most impressive were the women doing the hand embroidery on the freshly made silk, talk about monotonous.
Finally, it was time for us to go to the Elephant Falls which were actually not far at all from the silk factory. I had to pay a meager 10,000 dong for entrance but couldn't be bothered to care. We started our descent down the rocks/makeshift stairway while my major concentration was focused on not slipping and falling. About halfway down there was a fork in our path at which point my guide instructed "we go up and then down", okay sure, whatever you say. I was impressed by his fluid movements, what in his boots and all, but remembered he's probably done this path hundreds of times before. Once we reached the lookout point it was time for one of those woooow moments as I looked up at the ginormous falls before me. We took a few pictures, enjoyed the cool mist of the falls and then made our way to the down portion. Again full of slippery, muddy rocks I was happy not to completely wipe out before reaching the cave-like portion of the falls.
Before returning to the safety of some dry, flat ground we had one more stop to make. We ventured even further down the flow of the waterfall to another great lookout point. I almost lost it on one of the rocks but gracefully caught myself and avoided a complete disaster. We stopped on a few big boulders that were somewhat in the middle of a stream and rested here to enjoy the view. While waiting to move on my guide showed me a few pictures of himself at the Pongour Waterfalls which actually made the Elephant falls look small, guess I'll have to go back.
Once we navigated our way back to the entrance it was time to eat, almost. We made one last stop at Linh An Tu Pagoda before doing so. This made sense as the pagoda was immediately next door to the falls, and would likely take only a few minutes. The pagoda is nicknamed the 'Happy Buddha Pagoda" and for the first few minutes of our visit, I wasn't quite sure why. We started by entering the main hall which was filled with three enormous statues of Buddha, sandwiched between two more statues both displaying multiple arms. Although the main hall was impressive I've recently caught the 'Templed out" bug that hits many SE Asian travelers, honestly, I'm surprised I even took my shoes off to go inside. Around the corner, however, sat the Happy Buddha himself and he sure was a site to see, not only was he sitting there with a huge grin on his face he was also colored a lovely teal, not your everyday choice.
Having seen everything promised to me (except the cricket farm) it was finally time for lunch, and oh was I hungry. To be honest Vietnamese food has not been hitting home runs with me, so I was a bit skeptical as to what was in store, but I kept my hopes high. I was asked if I preferred rice or noodle and knowing the countries specialty went with the later of my two options. We pulled into an unassuming Pho shop, ordered two fish dishes and waited patiently. Thankfully my noodle soup was one of the best I'd been served thus far in Vietnam and I finished the entire thing feeling quite content, especially with a price tag of 25,000 dong (just over $1).
I was warned that I'd either love it or hate it. For some Vietnam is a food and adventure paradise while others just can't seem to find their grove. With a turbulent history and remains of division between north and south, it's an interesting place to say the least.